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Medic denies being 'Craigslist killer'

Bridegroom in custody over Boston murders

For bright young people like Philip Markoff, the internet is a second home. It was natural that he and his fiancée, Megan McAllister, would build a website to keep prospective guests informed of their wedding plans for August. And now that he is in jail in Boston, it makes sense that friends would come to his aid via Facebook.com. They have made a page for him: "Phil Markoff is innocent until Proven Guilty".

But the internet, according to prosecutors, also allowed Mr Markoff, 23, to lead a second, secret life far removed from his public one as a medical student. A life that even Ms McAllister was ignorant of until Monday when police pulled them over as they were driving to a casino in Connecticut.

If the allegations that tumbled out thereafter triggered disbelief among all who knew Mr Markoff – or thought they did – you could see why. He stood in court in a collared shirt and chino trousers looking so... well, prepossessing. Yet we were being told that he hooked up with young women on Craigslist – the internet site that lists everything from casual sex encounters to job offers and charity cake sales – to partake of their erotic services. And that he killed one and gravely assaulted the other.

It is a tale that invited oversized headlines such as "Med Student Murderer" and "Craigslist Killer". It fascinates because Craigslist is so ubiquitous on the web. It grips because of the accused murderer's good looks and apparently rosy prospects. According to prosecutors, Mr Markoff answered an advertisement for massage services placed on Craigslist on 14 April by Julissa Brisman, and met her at a Boston Marriott Hotel. Thirteen minutes after he arrived, police officers responded to reports of a disturbance in Ms Brisman's room. They found her dead on the floor, a bullet wound to her heart.

Security cameras captured images of a tall young blond man leaving the Marriott looking into his cell phone. Similar tapes led detectives to connect him to another attack on a prostitute who had advertised on Craigslist in another smart Boston hotel four days earlier. Now police have their own ad on the site looking for other possible victims. "Were you attacked or robbed at a Boston-area hotel after placing an ad on Craigslist?" it begins.

Mr Markoff has pleaded innocent to the charges against him. And the wedding, for now, is still not cancelled.